A damning myth about the origins of HIV in North America spun out of a single “ambiguous oval,” according to the authors of a new genetic study on the virus.
The study, published today in Nature, uses reconstructed genetic sequences to show that the virus landed on the continent around 1971, a full decade before it was discovered in 1981 and identified as a retrovirus in 1983. And the man vilified for having delivered it to the United States, a French Canadian airline steward named Gaëtan Dugas, aka Patient Zero, had nothing to do with its arrival, the study authors report. In fact, Dugas’ moniker “Patient Zero” was actually a misinterpretation of the identifier “Patient O” used in a dataset for an AIDS cluster study centered in California. Patient O was meant to signify that he was a patient from Outside California.